Last Year's Sockeye Run A Bust

Shuswap Environmental Action Society

(April 9, 2015) After the unexpected, massive run on the Adams River in 2010, one would have expected a larger than normal run four years later. However, the numbers are now in and the results show that the 2014 sockeye run was significantly lower than normal.

According to the 2014 Preliminary Late Run Sockeye Salmon Summary released by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the 2014 Adams River run of 748,888 was just 49 percent of the cycle average and 19 percent of the record 2010 run. Interestingly, the Shuswap River run of 1,031,025 spawners was the third largest on record and was 2.4 times larger than the cycle average.

Overall, the South Thompson run was 94.5 percent of the average, but was just 30 percent of the 2010 record run. The arrival was one week later than normal, but was similar to historical patterns.

“It appears that the problems encountered in 2009, which led to the Cohen Inquiry, may be reappearing,” explained Jim Cooperman, Shuswap Environmental Action Society president. “The four leading theories examined by the inquiry; climate change, too many fish allowed back to spawning grounds, salmon farming and interactions with pink salmon, may be resurfacing, added Cooperman.  Overfishing the run may have also contributed to the lower return.

A recent report about the impact of pink salmon provides statistical evidence that the abundance of these fish, including the approximate 1.4 billion hatchery pinks, correspond to lower numbers of returning sockeye. Pink salmon compete for food with the sockeye, which leads to slower growth, delayed maturation and spawning and lower survival rates for the sockeye.

“The federal government has essentially shelved the Cohen Report and has ignored its recommendations. Instead of reducing the number of salmon farms, it is allowing expansion and Fisheries and Oceans Canada has drastically cut staffing levels and has changed the rules for assessments to support pipeline construction,” decried Cooperman. “When will the federal government take appropriate action to address the concerns about declining salmon returns?” added Cooperman.

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April 9, 2015 (Vancouver, BC) – Despite a large return of sockeye to the mouth of the Fraser River last year, the number of fish that made it to their spawning grounds fell short of spawning objectives by 19%. If Canadian and U.S. fishermen had caught all the fish allocated to them, the total number of spawners would have been nearly 3 million fish short of the official in-season targets set by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Pacific Salmon Commission- an error of 41%.

Fishery experts from the Watershed Watch Salmon Society say that DFO authorized aggressive fisheries, ignoring scientific advice from the Pacific Salmon Commission and real-world warning signs that the run was smaller than expected.

“Big catches were obviously the highest priority for our federal government, not prudent management,” said Aaron Hill, Executive Director at Watershed Watch and an Observer on the Fraser River Panel. “But what’s really shocking is the amount of overfishing that would have occurred if the fishermen had caught their full allocation, which they usually do. It would have been a disaster similar to the missing fish fiasco in 2009 that led to the $37 million Cohen Commission.”

The biggest shortfall–about 37% or 1.4 million fish–occurred on the later portion of the run and includes both the fabled Adams River run and the endangered Cultus Lake run. But if fishermen had caught their full allocation of late-run sockeye, the run would have fallen short of the spawning target by an astounding 65%. DFO failed to achieve the modest recovery goals in place for Cultus Lake sockeye, as well as for the endangered Interior Fraser River coho runs that migrate at the same time and are caught along with the sockeye.

“Last season could have produced good catches and continued the rebuilding of Fraser sockeye- but instead it was another setback” said Greg Taylor, a Fisheries Advisor to Watershed Watch and former fishing company executive. “Only dumb luck prevented 2014 from entering the long list of management failures on the Fraser, a list that has generated five inquiries since 1992.”

These new revelations come as a new and unprecedented warming event in the North Pacific Ocean continues to raise concerns for B.C. salmon, and as DFO is taking comments from the public on proposals to maintain the increased catch rates for Fraser sockeye in their official fishing plans for 2015. Watershed Watch is calling on British Columbians to voice any concerns they may have to federal managers and politicians, to help ensure more cautious management in 2015 and future years.

“Fraser sockeye and many other salmon runs are struggling in the face of a warming ocean, melting glaciers, pathogens from salmon farms, and disrupted ecosystems,” concluded Hill. “The last thing they need is a management ethic focused on catch rather than conservation.”

Watershed Watch Salmon Society

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